Niemi is the poster boy for a sweeping change in goaltending philosophy since the salary cap was instituted after the lockout in 2004-05.
Teams have realized that it doesn't pay to tie up big dollars for big-name goaltenders when a marginal player can accomplish the same thing for less.
"It really is amazing how things have changed," former Flyers general manager Bob Clarke said yesterday. "For years, the Flyers have made decisions on goaltending the same way and have been criticized. The simple fact is that a goaltender can't cost you [games]. That's the bottom line; he just can't be a risk."
For proof, look at the Hockey News' list of Top 30 goaltenders: Ryan Miller, Martin Brodeur, Craig Anderson, Tomas Vokoun, Miikka Kiprusoff, Ilya Bryzgalov, Jonathan Quick, Roberto Luongo, Evgeni Nabokov and Henrik Lundqvist are the top 10.
Most are highly paid. Brodeur is the only Stanley Cup winner. And he is a dying breed.
"I say it all the time: Why didn't Buffalo win the Stanley Cup last year?" Clarke asked. "They have Ryan Miller now, the best in the game. They had Dominik Hasek before, one of the best in the game. Look at Detroit, they've always won with marginal goaltending."
Four of the top five teams that spent the most on goaltending - Minnesota, Toronto, the New York Rangers and Islanders - did not make the playoffs last season.
Neither Michael Leighton nor Brian Boucher cracked the top 30 last season. Both players helped carry the Flyers to the Stanley Cup finals. Niemi, Nabokov and Jaroslav Halak were the other Final Four netminders. All but Leighton have changed teams. Halak was traded to St. Louis and Nabokov is playing in Russia.
Washington, last year's top regular-season team, is heading into the season with Michal Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov. Feel free to ask, "Who?!"
Instead, the most successful teams are focusing on defense.
"I really like the way Paul [Holmgren] has built this team," Clarke said of the Flyers' GM. "It's going to be a good team this season. A real good team. There isn't a blue line in the league that can compete with the Flyers. It's the best in the league, bar none."
Leighton, who posted a 16-5-2 record in 27 regular-season appearances, will miss at least the first month with a bulging disk in his lower back. Most years, Flyers fans would have hit the roof with that news. This year, most fans shrugged.
Be it Boucher, Sergei Bobrovsky, Johan Backlund - or, if the Flyers plucked Tommy Soderstrom from the 1994 roster and stuck him in net - they will be just fine. That's not a knock. The game has changed.
Just one day after wrapping up his 19th preseason slate, free agent Bill Guerin was released from his pro tryout contract.
Guerin, who will turn 40 next month, saw the writing on the wall after Sunday night's loss in Buffalo in which he was a minus-4. In five preseason contests, Guerin notched one goal and a goal in a shootout win over Toronto.
Guerin admitted this wasn't his best preseason. The Flyers were hoping he'd show the 45-point potential he achieved last season in Pittsburgh. He was also hampered by an infected cut on his elbow, which caused him to miss two games.
"I think we were all hoping he would add something,'' Paul Holmgren said. "It was a tough situation for Bill to be in and we all thanked him for coming in on a tryout like he did. He's a class guy and he's obviously had a tremendous career in the NHL. We just didn't see him helping us moving forward."
Holmgren said Guerin's demise was a combination of average play and a tremendous camp by Andreas Nodl, 23, who will remain with the team.
It is unclear whether Guerin, one of the top American-born scorers in NHL history with 429 goals, will seek another job or retire. "I did what I could," Guerin said Sunday. "I was pretty fortunate to be in this spot, considering where a lot of other [free agents] are."
Defenseman Chris Pronger is scheduled to skate today with the Flyers in full drills for the first time this preseason. Pronger could be ready for Thursday's opener in Pittsburgh . . . Goaltender Johan Backlund and winger David Laliberte, the only two players cut yesterday who require waivers, could clear as soon as noon today. Paul Holmgren said on Sunday that he didn't think anyone would claim Backlund, since he has 2 years remaining on his contract, adding that it's "always a risk."
Maximum of 23 players by Wednesday at 3 o'clock
Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Claude Giroux, Danny Briere, James van Riemsdyk, Nikolay Zherdev, Blair Betts, Scott Hartnell, Ville Leino, Darroll Powe, Jody Shelley, Dan Carcillo, Andreas Nodl.
Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen, Matt Carle, Braydon Coburn, Andrej Meszaros, Sean O'Donnell, Matt Walker, Oskars Bartulis.
Brian Boucher, Sergei Bobrovsky.
Assigned to Phantoms
Ben Holmstrom, Erik Gustafsson, Mike Testwuide, David Laliberte, Marc-Andre Bourdon, Jon Kalinski.
Injured Reserve (2)
Ian Laperriere (post-concussion syndrome) and Michael Leighton (bulging disk) can start the season on the Long Term Injured Reserve, which would relieve the Flyers of their salary-cap hit and roster spot, but must remain there for at least 10 games or 24 calendar days.
THE WEEK AHEAD
At Pittsburgh, Thursday, 7 o'clock
Opening Night will feature a nationally televised (Versus) opening of the new $321 million Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. The Pens spent the bulk of their offseason budget on defense. General manager Ray Shero inked Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek (two of the most sought-after free agents), significantly beefing up the blue line. We have a feeling they won't miss Mellon Arena or power-play specialist Sergei Gonchar.
At St. Louis Saturday, 8 o'clock
The Flyers will travel to St. Louis for the Blues' home opener at the Scottrade Center, where former Blues great Brett Hull will be honored before the game. St. Louis (40-32-10) finished ninth in the West last year, five points out of a playoff spot. It added Montreal playoff hero Jaroslav Halak in a surprising summer trade, a significant boost over Chris Mason. The Blues will be turning the page - from Keith Tkachuk (retired) and Paul Kariya (post-concussion syndrome) - toward a new generation of players, but are well-equipped to be in the running for a playoff spot.